Thursday, February 3, 2011

What makes an artist... an artist?

I lay in my bed last night with this on my mind.

A classical pianist, like my beautiful friend Chika, cannot become a pianist in a matter of one day. One simply cannot decide to be some great concert pianist without ever touching a piano and then the next day become anything remotely close to legend. The same can be said for dancers, painters, and actors - well, at least maybe.

I formulated some raw formula 'math' formula in my head to describe what made a true artist. Hard Work + Dedication + Passion + Raw Talent + Training =? Artist. (all right, so it's not math at all) Then, I revised the equation. Hard Work + Dedication + Passion + Raw Talent + Training + Emotion + Extra =? Artist. Of course, each artist is different. So let's say each of those components to creating an artist is unequal, and each has a different multiple. Say... (a)(Hard Work) + b(Dedication) + c(Passion) + x(Raw Talent) + y(Training) + z(Emotion) + n(Extra) = (some degree of)Artist.

You may have artists of all walks of life and of all trades. But, I suppose my focus is on actors, since that's something I'd like to do and even have my business card printed saying that I am one.

There are all kinds of actors. There are the amateur actors who perform on small stages and do it just for the love and fun for it, perhaps. Then there are the working actors who actually make a career out of acting - be it on stage or from audition to audition in Hollywood. Then there are the stage legends whom many people may have never heard about, save those who really care and appreciate theater. Most visibly are the movie stars who are in big name films and are seen all over the world - these are the people who end up most closely associated with the word 'actor' by the common populace.

Perhaps the best actor out there is some unknown guy sweating it out on a stage in God knows where in the Midwest. It may have been one of my English teachers in high school who first put this idea in my head, as I now strain to remember who said it. So I suppose, in the equation of what makes a successful (the definition of success also can be argued) actor, you have to add in the 'luck' or 'connection factor.

And unlike the case of the classical pianist, it might very well be possible that someone who hasn't had any training whatsoever can be presented with some great acting opportunities and be considered an actor. One day a nobody, the next day a somebody. Perhaps this person was extremely good looking or just happened to be yelling at her boyfriend in the tube station and had an agent spot her out (true story, apparently).

So then what exactly makes an actor an actor? Does he or she need to have gone to the Yale School of Drama? Obviously not everyone can or has. Or at least have her BFA? Where does one draw the line? Of course, after having completed these programs, these actors will have had proof of rigorous training and that's always respectable and desired. I mean, a doctor is one with a M.D., regardless of where it was obtained - but of course no one can just walk into a hospital and be a doctor. But can you just walk in the door to an open call and be an actor? It seems one can, given this individual has a great amount of raw talent and combination of the correct looks. Sure, it may be rare, but it still happens. But, I mean, maybe this walk-in actor will still have to work up to a level where they can be respected by a community of actors who all have worked much harder than this newbie and undoubtedly will have some natural bitter feeling. It's not a fair industry and everyone knows that.

Is an actor automatically an artist? Not always. I suppose if this actor lacks that emotion, heart, or interpretation, there's no way I could consider him to truly be an artist. If one simply recites lines with acted feeling, is that enough to be art? Probably not.

For me, in the brief time that I've studied acting, I really do realize how difficult it is to actually become the character - be immersed so that the audience will forget that you are actually just an actor and not that character. Can I play a dying hooker who is addicted to drugs and dying of emphysema? Not really. Can I be believable as a man? No, I think not. It's not as if I will be cast for these types of roles in any case, but a truly great actor is one who really can become...just about anything. Right? And it's hard work, unless you are a true genius as Uta Hagen said.

I suppose all I can conclude is that...the artists are the one who create something real - out of abstracts, words, colors, emotions, movement - when there wasn't something there before. Art can be anywhere - maybe in the form of a car or code. In theater or film, it is a collaborative process. The playwright weaves the story, the director crafts it, and the actors bring it to life. It's the same when making music. All I know is that if you've ever waited in the wings behind stage, already as someone who is not just you, you're giving life to art. You have made it.


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